My name is Lucy Curtis, I’m a junior in high school from Philadelphia, and for the month of January I had an internship with Firsthand Foods. I spent my days creating marketing materials and tagging along after my aunt, Jennifer Curtis, trying to learn as much as I could in just four short weeks.
The most surprising thing about visiting farmers and customers was the depth of knowledge required for even the most simple of interactions. The average weight of different cuts of meat, how they are used and how available they will be at any given moment is information given in passing. How to know which animals will produce the best meat at a glance is another thing that was second nature to most of the people I worked with, whereas seeing animals in terms of the cuts of meat they contain was an alien concept to me before this month.
However I can now say with a modest amount of confidence that I can identify where to find the brisket, that a good beeve usually looks like “a refrigerator on its side,” and that the optimal amount of back fat on a hog is about an inch or so. But that all seems so clinical when standing in a field or in the woods surrounded by living, breathing animals that come when called and have bright, intelligent eyes. These animal’s lives seem so much less tragic than I previously imagined for the simple reason that while on pasture they are so, so alive. And I think it’s really important to lean into the discomfort and sadness that can come from eating what was once a living creature, because the uncertainty that comes from learning about this industry is where change can originate.
This month I learned that if you scratch a hog for long enough and in the right spot it will sink to its knees and roll onto its side in contentment. I learned that when a calf is very young it will run around with its tail sticking straight up, happy to be alive, happy to be under the sun and the wide blue sky. But these facts don’t make me sad to know that these animals are destined to be slaughtered, instead they make me glad to know that their lives were happy ones. So maybe the most important thing I learned this month was that acknowledging that what you are eating was once alive doesn’t have to be a sad thing, but instead can be a recognition of the animal’s life and what you can do to improve it.